“I’m not too eloquent on the subject. I’m just too angry about it.”
Those are the words of Peter Bogdanvich, famed director of The Last Picture Show, voicing regret over his 1968 film Targets, about a sniper shooting moviegoers at a local drive-in. The film, alongside works like The Graduate and Easy Rider, was a time capsule of the tumultuous ’60s discord and the disconnect between generations. Now, in the wake of the tragedy in Colorado during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, Bogdanvich has surmised in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter that “Violence on the screen has increased tenfold. It’s almost pornographic. In fact, it is pornographic. Video games are violent, too. It’s all out of control. I can see where it would drive somebody crazy.”
At this moment, Hollywood is doing the typical hand-wringing it does when a violent reality mildly recalls a work of fiction. Ask J.D. Salinger ( he’s dead) about John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman. Ask AC/DC about serial killer Richard Ramirez (a.k.a. Night Stalker). Ask Oldboy director Park Chan Wook about fan Cho Seung-Hui killing 32 students at Virginia Tech.
Now they’re going to reshoot the upcoming film noir Gangster Squad and remove the theater shootout scene that was prominently featured in the trailers. They should go ahead and start making past films safer for our delicate sensibilities. Please Quentin Tarantino, re-edit Inglorious Basterds in light of the tragic events. The American people can’t handle fictional images of violence in a theater. Please Joe Dante, ixnay the gremlins watching Snow White scene from Gremlins. We’re in a new era and that’s just extremely insensitive. For God’s sake, Scary Movie director Keenan Ivory Wayans, please remove the movie theater scene, one of the few funny moments in the whole film. It’s too soon. Using this logic, the best way to fight terror is to capitulate to its desire to leave us shaken and doubtful. That’s what we do when we debate the art, political affiliation, and the guns but not the actions of the individual. In the end it’s a pointless exercise that helps no one. Not you. Not me. Not the victims. Alfred Pennyworth said it best in The Dark Knight: Some men just want to watch the world burn.
When news of the tragedy broke, the 24-hour news cycle kicked into high gear. It was quick to draw comparisons between the shooter and the fictional Joker in the second film in the most recent Batman series. In no time at all, the media began blasting tasteful headlines like ” The Joker Went Wild” and “The Dark Knight Murders.” The one that caught my eye was from Meet the Press. If I were a random person unaware of the Colorado tragedy, I would have thought the headline “Movie Theater Massacre” was actually a mid-’80s horror film that had somehow slipped my radar
In my opinion, art doesn’t dictate action. I have enough friends who can serve as living, breathing examples of this. Their love of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and World of Warcraft has never drove them to an unquenchable bloodlust. One friend’s love of the entire catalog of Iron Maiden and Black Dahlia Murder has never driven him to murder. One married couple I know has an affinity for some of the world’s more depraved cinema but that hasn’t led them on a Natural Born Killers-esque shooting spree
If this piece sounds mega-defensive and angry, it’s because it is. As a nerd with the love for and an endless fountain of useless knowledge of the off-kilter darkness of certain films, I can say that I’ve found myself defending this adoration many times over. For the record, I can’t watch actual footage of a person or animal being hurt. As a kid with Ichthyosis, a skin disorder that kept me indoors, I excelled at all the introverted activities, namely drawing, reading, writing bad teenage poetry, going to the movies, and watching a shitload of VHS tapes. Thanks to that VHS fetish, I attained a working knowledge of the entire Corey Haim/Corey Feldman catalog, the filmography of Steven Spielberg, and the ins-and-outs of all things horror-related. To paraphrase the immortal words of Merle Haggard, mama tried to introduce me to mainstream things but they never fit. Never felt right. Watching gremlins wreak havoc on a small town or the ultimate mama’s boy, Jason Voorhees, get vengeance for his mom’s death was just more fun to me than watching sports ever was. Deities like Darth Vader, E.T., the Toxic Avenger, and Freddy Krueger weren’t pleasing to the conventional eye, and like many awkward teens, I related to that. Essentially, these characters were creative, artistic middle fingers to the established order. These pieces of art weren’t safe, they weren’t mainstream, and sometimes they didn’t play well with others. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this very art did serve as a personal mirror growing up. I don’t regret being influenced by rebel artists and fictional monsters. It gave me solace when I needed it most.
We can try to understand why the shooter — whose name I refuse to mention — did what he did, but all the armchair psychotherapy in the world won’t change that. All last minute edits to a movie won’t change what occurred or what the future holds. The shelf-life of the ad nauseum footage of human misery, talking heads espousing mock moral outrage/sorrow, and political theories won’t change things, but they serve as a reminder that one person’s nightmarish loss has become someone’s temporary gain. No matter what we tell ourselves, news has become the new entertainment that thrives off others’ painful reality. The real Jokers wear an earpiece and a nice suit, and they’ve already moved on to Shark Week.